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Meet Scener: Social-Video Commentary Startup Rides on Top of Netflix, Hulu Content

Here comes a new way to watch TV shows and movies: Startup Scener is coming out of stealth mode and launching a service that lets you provide your own color commentary over Netflix, Hulu and YouTube streaming video and gives viewers the chance to interact in real-time.

The free Scener service, which goes live Sept. 5 at scener.com, lets anyone create, share and watch picture-in-picture reaction commentary videos synced with streaming programming. The company was incubated by media-streaming company RealNetworks, which for now is the sole investor.

It’s somewhat analogous to the director’s commentary provided as extras on movie DVDs — except that the people using Scener to proffer play-by-play reactions most likely had nothing to do with creating the content they’re commenting on. Scener is perhaps closer to the experience on Amazon’s Twitch, in which game broadcasters typically narrate the action and fans chime in via chat.

Scener was founded by Daniel Strickland, a former RealNetworks exec who most recently headed the company’s consumer media division focusing on social and consumer video, and Joe Braidwood, who has a consumer-marketing background with companies including TraceMe and Swiftkey. (Scener’s co-founders are scheduled to participate in Variety’s Entertainment & Technology Summit on Sept. 6 in L.A.)

Strickland, Scener’s chief technology officer, said the idea for the service was borne out of his frustration when he saw people post reactions on Twitter to TV shows. Often, he wasn’t watching TV live so he couldn’t follow their comments when he tuned in later. “I couldn’t rewind Twitter,” he said.

Now, with Scener, digital influencers can tell their fans, “Hey, come watch ‘Stranger Things’ with me, it’s going to be awesome,” said Strickland. “We’re about enhancing the future of storytelling and story consumption.”

Here’s how Scener works: Users must download Scener’s free Google Chrome extension for laptops and desktops. (For now, it works only on Chrome browsers.) Once they log in, viewers can can like, follow and comment on their favorites hosts while also curating their favorite content into a personal queue. While watching a live, the video stream of the host appears in a window at the upper right and users can send chat messages through a right-hand sidebar.

Users also can watch replays of a host’s commentary, and there’s a feature to switch off the talking head and chat function when you just want to watch the show or movie uninterrupted. Scener’s Chrome extension also overlays an orange-colored progress bar (above each video’s regular progress bar) to indicate where a host has provided commentary.

How is this legal? According to Strickland, all that Scener is doing is providing a web-based layer on top of existing streaming services like Netflix and Hulu; in order to watch the original TV show or movie that a Scener commentator is opining about, users must have a subscription to that service. “It’s like sticking a sticky note on your TV,” he said.

In fact, Scener provides a legal approach to address something that has frustrated YouTube creators who have specialized in providing commentary on popular entertainment, like “Game of Thrones” or Marvel’s Avengers movies, noted Strickland. “You can’t show the movie you’re talking about because of copyright rules,” he said. “Scener lets you watch the movie and explain it as you watch it.”

Scener’s founders believe their social-commentary system will help drive binge-watching and promote the services of Netflix, Hulu and others it expects to integrate with in the future. “We are only at the beginning of seeing how creator communities are going to help audience growth, engagement and content discoverability,” said Braidwood, the company’s CMO.

For now, Scener isn’t focused on generating revenue. The initial business model revolves around letting users subscribe to or tip their favorite commentators (a la Twitch), with  Scener taking a cut of the fees. At launch, Scener is integrated with Patreon, the membership platform for creators.

After several months in a private beta test, Scener is launching this week with a library over 600 hours of commentary overlaid on movies, TV episodes and video clips. “Right now the focus is on building a compelling, delightful experience for users,” Strickland said.

Scener co-founders Daniel Strickland (left) and Joe Braidwood

Individual commentators Scener has worked with in the beta test include: Filup Molina, creator of YouTube channel New Rockstars, who has provided commentary on “Breaking Bad”; writer-actor-comedian Hannah Pilkes, who shares her thoughts on Netflix’s “Santa Clarita Diet”; and Jayda Rasberry and James Nelson — both of whom spent time behind bars as prisoners — who offer a reality-check on “Orange Is the New Black.”

Scener, co-located at RealNetworks’ Seattle headquarters, currently has about 12 employees.

Strickland acknowledges that not everyone will be drawn to Scener’s social-commentary milieu. But he believes entertainment superfans will embrace it. In the early stages of developing the business plan for the company, he said, “We realized, ‘Hey, all these people are watching Netflix on laptops that have cameras pointed back at them.'”

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